The book of Esther is a historical record falling in the period of the return from the Babylonian captivity. There were three phases to the return: the first under Zerubbabel (536 BC) who oversaw the rebuilding of the temple; the second under Ezra (458 BC) who re-established worship; and the third under Nehemiah (444 BC) who led the people in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The events in Esther fall between the time of Zerubbabel and Ezra.
About four years after Vashti was deposed of her role as queen, Ahasuerus sought to marry again. Of the 400 young women who were prepared and brought in the presence of the king he chose Esther, a young Jewish woman (he didn’t know she was Jewish).
Esther was the young cousin of Mordecai, who had taken her in and raised her as an adopted daughter. Throughout the selection process and after Esther was picked, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate to keep regular contact with Esther. While there, he overheard a plot by the doorkeepers to kill the king. Mordecai informed Esther who told the king. The plot was foiled and a record was made in the chronicles.
The antagonist of Esther’s story is Haman the Agagite. He was promoted by the king and paraded before the people of Shushan who bowed and paid homage; all except Mordecai. When word got to Haman that Mordecai the Jew would not bow before him, Haman made it his mission to not just kill Mordecai, but to annihilate the Jews throughout the kingdom. He went to the king, speaking of a vile people scattered in the provinces who did not obey the law and were deserving of death. The king did not inquire who these people were—he trusted Haman, giving him his signet ring and the right to make a decree to destroy these unnamed rebels.
Knowing Haman’s plan, Mordecai encouraged Esther to go to the king on behalf of her countrymen. But to enter the inner court without being called by the king was punishable by death, unless he extended his golden scepter to the one who approached. Remember, he had already banished Vashti for her insolence. Mordecai urged her, “…if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
God’s providence is at the forefront of this book. Several things came together to save the Jewish people from harm—it is hard to not see God’s hand in it.
- Vashti was removed, making room for Esther.
- Esther was selected out of 400 women. Had another woman been chosen, Esther would have no access to the king.
- Mordecai overheard the plot against the king, reported it and his name was recorded in the chronicle later read by the king.
- The night before Haman sought permission to execute Mordecai, the king couldn’t sleep. Of all things he could have done, he asked a servant to read the chronicles of the kingdom to him. Of all the chronicles available out of the 127 provinces over a 5-6 year period, the section containing Mordecai’s deed was read.
- The king was listening (not falling asleep) and sought to reward Mordecai, which saved his life, and opened the door to uncover Haman’s plot.
God could have saved His people by miraculous means, He did not. He worked through faithful disciples (Mordecai & Esther) and an honest pagan king (Ahasuerus). Haman’s plot came to nothing, in fact, he himself was put to death on the gallows he had custom built for Mordecai. These events continue to be remembered in the annual feast of Purim (named after the Pur, a lot or dice, a tool of chance; for Haman had left the timing of his plan to chance, Esther 3:7).
Though God is not mentioned by name (neither the Hebrew words YHWH nor ELOHIM appear in the book), it is evident that He was with His people. This book is a great testament to the providential care of God for His people.
Next week we continue with Job…